Legal Wise by MdME | Land Law: the mystery of the missing tapes

Gonçalo Mendes da Maia

Since my article, “The Failed Land Law”, in MDT of July last year, much has changed, but nothing in the right direction. There is certainly more awareness and a unanimous agreement that there is something very wrong with the Land Law and in the whole political process. The report released last week by the Legislative Assembly offered more clear evidence that this is so.

In the past year, there were numerous media investigations, press conferences involving legislators, legal advisors and land owners, and institutional meetings between associations and stakeholders, all raising awareness of the extreme injustice of Article 48 in the Land Law.

As we all now know, in 2010 the Government, through a special commission, concluded that for 65 plots of land (to which 16 were later added) the “causes for non-development were not imputable” to their respective owners. And, according to the Land Law, enacted in 2013, there are multiple references to exceptions granted to concessionaires when they cannot be held liable for certain breaches or delays. To extend these exceptions to allow non-culpable concessionaires to develop their expired land concessions would not only be the reasonable solution, but also the fairest. The proposal by legislator Gabriel Tong was a viable solution to allow non-culpable concessionaires the opportunity to develop their land, but his efforts were rejected.

In response, the president of the Legislative Assembly revealed that the tapes of the meetings regarding the preparatory land law were to be released to ascertain the true intentions of the Government, namely if, as mentioned by a number of legislators, the Government had pledged at the time to find an administrative solution to allow the non-culpable land owners to develop their land plots thus avoiding the injustice of a ‘blind’ enforcement of Article 48.

All of this even reached the attention of the chairman of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang, who mentioned certain “profound issues” regarding land and transport, which should be solved under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Basic Law framework. This was a clear message to the Macau Government to determine a solution to these ‘profound’ problems efficiently and fairly. Moreover, it seems that now virtually all legislators – even the ones that most fiercely opposed it – consider the Land Law to have deficiencies requiring a solution by an amendment or by administrative action.

Nevertheless, according to a report released last week by the Legislative Assembly, nothing seems to be wrong with the Land Law and the proposal by Gabriel Tong was subsequently rejected. In the 562-page   report nothing is mentioned as to whether Article 48 of the Land Law is fair or just to the land concessionaires that, for more than 20 years, were prevented by the Government from developing their land and are now having their properties confiscated.

However, and more shockingly, the report mentions that there are no transcripts of the tapes of the preparatory meetings because they were held in chambers. This means that for eight months, we were all waiting for something that the Government never had the intention to disclose. Or maybe they had the intention, but decided not to upon hearing the tapes… Now we can but wonder what promises were made by the Government during such meetings: probably promises as steadfast as those made to disclose the transcripts of the tapes.      

Now it seems that all hope of a legislative or administrative solution is lost. The Chief Executive has been issuing declarations of expiry nearly every month. So it seems that in the absence of a Government that protects the basic foundations of our legal and political system – such as the principles of justice, equality and good faith – it is now up to the Courts to make this happen.

*Partner, MdME Lawyers

Editor’s Note: The author is a partner of MdME, a law firm representing clients involved in this matter. The opinions expressed within this article are solely the personal opinions of the writer.

Categories Macau Opinion